A brief history of the Golf GTI

Golf GTI Mk1

In development since 1974. In 1974, half a dozen staff members at Volkswagen, including Anton Konrad, Volkswagen’s then chief press officer, concocted a secret plan to develop a sporty version of the Golf. There was no official mandate to develop the Sport Golf, but Hermann Hablitzel, Board Member for Technology, made sure the project kept going. Initial prototypes emerged, including a vehicle with a carburettor engine generating 100 PS. In early March 1975, Hablitzel officially presented the Sport Golf project to Toni Schmücker, Chairman of the Board of Management, who gave it the green light. As a result, the clandestine Sport Golf officially became development order EA195. Now there was a schedule ‒ and an ambitious one at that! The vehicle was to celebrate its world premiere at the International Motor Show (IAA) in Frankfurt in September and so the project picked up speed. EA195 took a crucial step forward once it was finally paired with the right power unit – an injection engine generating 110 PS. However, the Super Golf didn’t even have a name yet. Suggestions that were discussed included TS and GTS. But then GTI won the race. At the same time, chief designer Herbert Schäfer – a keen golfer – reinvented the gear knob by simply attaching a golf ball to the GTI’s selector rod. 

World premiere in 1975, launch in 1976. Then came IAA. Volkswagen showcased the Golf GTI and received an enthusiastic media response – everyone wanted one! And they got what they asked for. In June 1976 the Golf GTI Mk1, priced at 13,850 German marks, was launched in Germany before going on to enjoy global success. The initial plan was to manufacture 5,000 units of this special product line to at least recoup the cost of development and the investment in production equipment. However, things turned out rather differently as neither Konrad, Hablitzel nor Schmücker had anticipated the level of popularity of this Golf GTI with a top speed of 182 km/h and black wheel arch extensions, a black frame around the rear window, red edge around the radiator grille, tartan sports seats, the golf ball gear knob and a sports steering wheel with a special design feature. The 5,000 units of the Golf GTI Mk1 eventually ended up as 461,690 units – and the ultimate crowning glory of the product line was the Pirelli-GTI, a special edition generating 112 PS. This marked the first chapter in what remains the world’s most successful compact sports car.

1984 – Golf GTI Mk2

Stroke of genius with up to 160 PS. A real strategic stroke of genius followed with the Golf GTI Mk2 in early 1984. Still delivering 112 PS, it perpetuated the concept and design DNA of the first generation. The GTI’s insignia – in particular the red strip in the radiator grille and the tartan sports seats – became classic design features and the newcomer ultimately became an icon. In 1984 the vehicle’s output briefly dropped to 107 PS as a result of the introduction of the catalytic converter. Two years later, Volkswagen offset the loss of power with a new 16V engine generating 129 PS including catalytic converter, which came close to matching the agility of the original GTI (139 PS without a catalytic converter). In 1990 the G-Lader supercharger in the Golf GTI G60 boosted its output to 160 PS.

1991 – Golf GTI Mk3

Up to 150 PS. Volkswagen transferred the GTI insignias to the third generation in 1991. The second GTI generation’s dual headlights had now been concealed behind a shared lens and the vehicle’s output started from 115 PS. One year later, the engine output was increased to 150 PS thanks to a new four-valve engine. In 1996 a turbocharged diesel version (TDI) generating 110 PS enhanced the GTI concept. Years later, petrol and diesel engines would be divided once and for all into GTI and GTD. 1996 also saw the launch of the “20 years of GTI” anniversary model.

1998 – Golf GTI Mk4

Icon generating 180 PS. The fourth generation of the GTI, introduced in 1998, was modest in terms of styling and was the first and only GTI to do away with elements including the red strip in the radiator grille. Nevertheless, the vehicle still became an icon of design, celebrated today as the starting point of a new, cleaner era of vehicle design. In terms of technology, the 150-PS Golf GTI Mk4 was a car that kept competitors at arm’s length with its agility and quality. The petrol engines – with four and five cylinders – generated up to 170 PS while diesel engines delivered a maximum of 150 PS. In 2001 Volkswagen celebrated the icon’s first quarter century with the turbocharged “25 years of GTI” special edition generating 180 PS.

2004 – Golf GTI Mk5

Comeback and up to 230 PS. In September 2003 Volkswagen launched a magnificent comeback of the classic at IAA with a prototype of the fifth GTI generation. More than ever before the acronym GTI became a synonym for compact driving dynamics with this generation. In September 2004, Volkswagen showcased the production version at the Paris Motor Show while the launch of the Golf GTI Mk5 followed in November. Its hallmarks were a significantly sharper look, a 200-PS turbocharged engine and supreme handling characteristics. Volkswagen propelled the GTI concept into the future with this version of the sports car. The new Denver design wheels and the black, V-shaped radiator grille were particularly striking features. The new turbocharged engine also delivered plenty of “oomph” – it propelled the GTI with a manual gearbox to 100 km/h in a mere 7.2 seconds. Fitting the vehicle with the new dual clutch gearbox (DSG) cut the time required to only 6.9 seconds. The vehicle’s top speed was an impressive 235 km/h. The slogan in the first brochure read “high-performance sport has never been this much fun!”. On the iconic sports car’s 30th anniversary in 2006, its creators introduced GTI aficionados to the “30 years of GTI” edition, which generated 230 PS. Featuring the same engine, the reincarnation of the “Pirelli GTI” was launched in 2007.

2009 – Golf GTI Mk6

Low power-to-weight ratio and up to 235 PS. The sixth generation of the Golf GTI followed in 2009. None other than racing legend Hans-Joachim Stuck was in charge of honing the vehicle’s setup. This new generation of Golf GTI redefined the concept of grip thanks to an electronic differential lock (XDS). With a top speed of 240 km/h, this GTI featured a turbocharged engine generating 210 PS and was great fun to drive. This generation featured a sound generator and a new exhaust system concept (with one tailpipe each on the left and right) delivering audible dynamism. This GTI consistently took the original version’s tradition into the future. In 2011 the vehicle was made available as a convertible for the first time. This generation culminated in the “Golf GTI Edition 35”, generating 235 PS, to mark the product line’s 35th anniversary in 2011. Volkswagen presented the new GTI flagship at the Nürburgring and with an output of 235 PS it was the first to come very close to reaching 250 km/h – 247 km/h to be precise. Thanks to a power-to-weight ratio of 6 kg/PS the GTI had become more agile than ever before, reaching 100 km/h in only 6.6 seconds.

2013 – Golf GTI Mk7

In top shape with up to 310 PS. The seventh generation of the GTI was launched in two output versions in spring 2013. Volkswagen unveiled this new Golf GTI to international media representatives in Saint-Tropez. This was the first time the vehicle was directly launched in two output versions – the basic version delivered 162 kW/220 PS while the Golf GTI Performance could unleash 169 kW/230 PS. The latter was the first Golf GTI to feature a differential lock for the driven front axle and to be constructed on the modular transverse matrix (MQB). This new technical platform cut the GTI’s weight by up to 42 kg compared with its predecessor, making it even more dynamic. The 230-PS version featuring a manual gearbox was the first Golf GTI to reach 250 km/h. It formed the basis for the Golf GTI Clubsport, presented in action at Portimão race circuit in November 2015, which was capable of delivering up to 213 kW/290 PS thanks to a boost function. The vehicle was launched in 2016 and it blurred the boundaries to motorsport. It took a mere 5.9 seconds to accelerate the vehicle to 100 km/h. A year later the Golf GTI Clubsport S with an output of 228 kW/310 PS made the breakthrough into motorsport territory. In spring 2016, Volkswagen works driver Benjamin Leuchter smashed the previous record for front-wheel drive vehicles around the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife at the wheel of the Golf GTI Clubsport S with a top speed of 265 km/h in 07:49:21 minutes – what a way to celebrate the Golf GTI’s 40th anniversary!